WACO (February 16, 2014) In a letter to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs this month, a top VA official is standing behind the millions in bonuses Veterans Affairs handed out to a handful of VA executives nationwide, despite a growing backlog in disability claims.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
In April 2013, records surfaced that the VA paid its senior executives a total of $2.8 million in bonuses in fiscal year 2011 alone. Among the VA bonuses, three staff members received the top payment of $23,091 each.
Carl Lowe, Director of the Waco VA Regional Office from 2000 to 2011, was one of many who collected a bonus before retiring.
The number of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days jumped from less than 200,000 to nearly 500,000 nationwide in the fiscal year of 2011.
Between 2007 and 2011, the backlog within the Waco VA Regional Office became one of the worst in America.
According to a federal database search, Lowe’s base salary was $173,600 in 2011. Documents obtained by News 10 show that Lowe was sometimes awarded up to $13,000 a year in bonuses.
The Austin American Statesman first reported that Lowe accrued $53,436 in yearly bonuses between 2007 and 2011.
The bonuses Lowe received were defended by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in a letter to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, who is Chairman to the Committee of Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, DC.
In the letter, Shinseki says, “to attract and retain the best leaders, VA uses all the tools available, including performance awards.”
He goes on to comment why Lowe received bonuses specifically saying, “The performance of Mr. Carl Lowe was evaluated on a measurement system that included all business lines for which he was responsible while serving as Director.”
Shinseki continues saying, “during Mr. Lowe’s tenure, he set the example for going above and beyond in the area of Veteran outreach and fostered strong, collaborative relationships with a variety of internal and external stakeholders.”
McLennan County Veterans Officer Steve Hernandez was shocked by Shinseki’s letter.
“It just disappoints me the VA did not plan properly to take care of the veteran first,” Hernandez said.
"I think it's about time the VA gets reviewed and scrutinized at the federal level for the amount of money that they're giving out without oversight."
As of November 2013, 51 percent of the disability claims at the Waco VARO are backlogged, according to online records.
The days it takes to complete a claim sits at 334, when the national average is 286.
However, the Waco VARO is no longer the worst in the nation when it comes to backlogged claims.
VA Officials in Washington have since said they would withhold executive bonuses in 2013 and invest the savings in depleting its nationwide backlog of pending claims.
H.R. 357: GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2014 was recently passed in the House and would eliminate all bonuses for VA senior executives during fiscal years 2014 through 2018.